Author: Mark Thomas
If time travel has taught us anything it’s that inevitability is a slippery subject. My story became mathematically more likely each time I ingested a tablet, but it was never absolutely certain.
Every clock puncher understands that he or she will eventually encounter multiple versions of themselves. Ordinarily, glimpses of alternate life-possibilities are easy to ignore because those iterations are so similar in appearance and temperament to the “original” that the strongest emotion they can inspire is a weak form of self-love.
Unfortunately, the being I encountered on my last journey was significantly different in one important respect.
My time-shadow was happy.
The simulacra had utterly abandoned his temporal-vacation to embrace the retro-environment. He had violated protocol and common sense to go native.
I must have immediately suspected the dark transition, otherwise, why would I have insinuated myself into a crowd of people and followed him that day? I waited for him to emerge from a record store clutching a paper-wrapped package. I hid behind the trunk of an enormous elm as he sauntered through a corner of the park. I watched from an adjacent doorway as he stopped at a bakery to purchase a small bag of pastries and then at a newsstand to exchange a few coins for a morning paper. Ultimately, my time-shadow skipped up the steps of an old brownstone where a youngish woman was sitting, drinking tea from a mug. At the counterfeit’s approach, the young woman put down her mug, stood up and wriggled her fingers inviting physical contact.
The two clumsily embraced then entered the townhouse. Soon I heard music waft from an open window and the sound of unrestrained laughter.
You might be “envious” of people you don’t know. Someone wins the Copley medal for science, for example, and you wish you could experience that same sense of self-satisfaction, that same level of material success and public adulation. That’s an unfortunate character weakness, but it isn’t a debilitating passion. You are “jealous,” however, of people you know intimately. There is a profound sense of unfairness attached to the contemplation of another’s success when the person shared, to a great extent, your own opportunities and talents. That sense of aggrievement can easily become pernicious. Why, you ask yourself, did good fortune light on the person standing next to you? Why were you overlooked?
I know this must be difficult to understand, but I quickly developed an intense jealous hatred of myself and once I realized this was the case, I could neither bear it nor suppress it.
I waited outside the brownstone for twelve hours.
It was evening when my time shadow emerged, whistling, from the doorway. He skipped down the steps and crossed the street, passing right in front of a railed alcove where I was hiding. His movements were strobe-like as he walked through patches of darkness alternating with bright circles of illumination from the streetlights.
I pursued him quickly, and silently, but he glanced over his shoulder at the last instant, and horror filled his eyes as my weapon descended. I clubbed him with a heavy wine bottle I had pulled from one of the garbage cans in the alcove. The glass didn’t break, even when I let it drop from my fist to clunk on the sidewalk bricks.
I’m not sure which sound I heard first, a female voice screaming from a stoop behind me, or the wailing of a siren.
A policeman approached me tentatively, hand hovering over his holster, but we were soon face to face, eyebrows raised in a mirror image of recognition.